Bears

Central Division closest race in the league

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Central Division closest race in the league

The Bulls seem to have found their stride after a rough November, but the rest of the Central Division is surprisingly keeping pace.
Winners in eight of their last 11, the Bulls have jumped from 6-7 to 14-10, and have sat atop the Central standings the last week. The impressive play of Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, both of whom are logging 40 minutes per night, has the Bulls in contention even without the services of Derrick Rose.
The Bulls may have the weakest record of any first-place team of any division, but the Central stands as the closest race in the league, and one of two divisions with three teams better than .500, as Christmas nears.
Three teams -- Chicago, Milwaukee and Indiana -- are within 1.5 games of each other. The next closest race involving three teams in a division is the Southwest, where Houston (12-12) sits 5.5 games back of San Antonio (19-8) and 5 behind Memphis (16-6).
The Bucks have feasted on a rather easy schedule to win six of their last nine games, all in December. During that stretch, the only team better than .500 the Bucks have defeated is Brooklyn (13-11).
Indiana has also maintained pace by winning nine of 14 games dating back to Nov. 19. But of teams with a winning record, the Pacers are just 1-10 against other winning teams. With games against Utah, Chicago, Atlanta and Memphis to close the month, the Pacers will know more about their squad's ability to remain in the Central division race by the time the calendar hits 2013.
DivisionWin Teams above .500Atlantic (East).5042 (NYK, BRK)Central (E).4783 (CHI, MKE, IND)Southeast (E).4602 (MIA, ATL)Northwest (West).5814 (OKC, DEN, UTAH, MIN)Pacific (W).5162 (LAC, GSW)Southwest (W).5242 (SAS, MEM)
No one will argue the Central division as being the league's best, but as it stands it is the Eastern Conference's most competitive division and the closest race in the league. The standings may change when the Pacers get Danny Granger (knee) back in February or when Rose returns for the Bulls, but for now it's looking like a three-team race that should continue late into the season.

Can the Bears make enough plays to beat the Carolina Panthers?

Can the Bears make enough plays to beat the Carolina Panthers?

Everything changed for the Bears after going up 17-3 last week against the Baltimore Ravens. Mitchell Trubisky’s 27-yard touchdown to Dion Sims was immediately followed by Bobby Rainey running a kickoff back 96 yards for a touchdown, then the offense was bogged down with three fumbles (two lost) on three consecutive possessions. 

But Adrian Amos seemed to seal the game with his 90-yard pick six — that is, until Michael Campanaro ran Pat O’Donnell’s punt back 77 yards for what wound up being a game-tying touchdown after a two-point conversion.

The point is the Bears should’ve cruised to a comfortable win last week; a few critical mistakes didn’t allow that to happen. The Bears haven’t led at the end of the fourth quarter this year, a pretty strong indicator they haven’t played a complete game yet despite having two wins. 

The Carolina Panthers have road wins over the Detroit Lions and New England Patriots this year, and only lost to the Philadelphia Eagles by five points last week (despite Cam Newton throwing three interceptions). The bet here is the Bears keep things close on the backs of a strong defense, but either can’t make enough plays or make too many mistakes to win. 

Prediction: Panthers 20, Bears 16

Offseason of change begins with Cubs firing pitching coach Chris Bosio

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USA TODAY

Offseason of change begins with Cubs firing pitching coach Chris Bosio

"Of course," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said in the middle of the National League Championship — he would like his coaches back in 2018. Pitching coach Chris Bosio told the team's flagship radio station this week that the staff expected to return next year. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein didn't go that far during Friday afternoon's end-of-season news conference at Wrigley Field, but he did say: "Rest assured, Joe will have every coach back that he wants back."

That's Cub: USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale first reported Saturday morning that Bosio had been fired, the team declining a club contract option for next year and making a major influence on the Wrigleyville rebuild a free agent. Epstein and Bosio did not immediately respond to text messages and the club has not officially outlined the shape of the 2018 coaching staff.

Those exit meetings on Friday at Wrigley Field are just the beginning of an offseason that could lead to sweeping changes, with the Cubs looking to replace 40 percent of their rotation, identify an established closer (whether or not that's Wade Davis), find another leadoff option and maybe break up their World Series core of hitters to acquire pitching. 

The obvious candidate to replace Bosio is Jim Hickey, Maddon's longtime pitching coach with the Tampa Bay Rays who has Chicago roots and recently parted ways with the small-market franchise that stayed competitive by consistently developing young arms like David Price and Chris Archer.

Of course, Maddon denied that speculation during an NLCS where the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs in every phase of the game and the manager's bullpen decisions kept getting second-guessed.

Bosio has a big personality and strong opinions that rocked the boat at times, but he brought instant credibility as an accomplished big-league pitcher who helped implement the team's sophisticated game-planning system.

Originally a Dale Sveum hire for the 2012 season/Epstein regime Year 1 where the Cubs lost 101 games, Bosio helped coach up and market short-term assets like Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman, Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija. 

Those win-later trades combined with Bosio's expertise led to a 2016 major-league ERA leader (Kyle Hendricks) and a 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner (Jake Arrieta) plus setup guys Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. and All-Star shortstop Addison Russell.

Bosio helped set the foundation for the group that won last year's World Series and has made three consecutive trips to the NLCS. But as the Cubs are going to find out this winter, there is a shelf life to everything, even for those who made their mark during a golden age of baseball on the North Side.